Success, power, pleasure and consumption.
What do we idolize in our modern culture? Success, power, pleasure and consumption. In fact, this has always been the case for the world’s rich and powerful throughout history. The wealthy, not limited by resources, have always tended toward the hedonistic. Their “god is their belly” as the apostle Paul writes.
The rest of society, the majority of the population, has always had to live within their meager and modest means. Scarcity is the norm for the world’s masses. Because of poverty, faith in the majority of the world focuses on the daily pursuit of food, health, clothing and shelter. "I trust God to provide me with food today, or heal my sick child?" It also focuses more on the eternal things that give purpose and meaning to a person or community that feels helplessly trapped. Freedom to do and posess whatever just isn't a reality for most of the world throughout history.
In our modern Western society, however, material possessions are abundantly accessible to almost everyone; and personal freedom to do whatever, whenever is the expected norm.
This has changed how we see the eternal truths of God, always through a materialistic lens, always through the “how does this get me more of what I want” lens. Deep spiritual truths from the East (Christianity was first a middle-eastern religion) have been watered down and made into our own image.
We have co-joined religion and state, faith and consumerism, God and nationalism, spiritual and economic growth. There seems to be no way of undoing it in mainstream religion and faith. This is not just an American problem, but because we are such an affluent society, it is more pronounced.
Prosperity preachers have co-opted the message of Jesus and turned it into a plan for making themselves rich. Conservative "Evangelicals" in America have conflated the teachings of Jesus with their "freedom" to have anything we want, whenever we want, at whatever quantity we want, and no matter how we treat others and harm the world around us.
Jesus was not interested in helping people accumulate massive wealth for themselves, period. In fact, he warned the rich on multiple occasions about their love for money (Mark 4:19, Mark 10:25, Luke 6:24.) He came to restore the relationship between the material and the spiritual, between the eternal and the physical. His ministry and message transcends, redeems and unites all things.
How do we escape the trappings of a modern consumerist religion and work toward a faith that is focused on the priorities of God's Kingdom?
Do you desire things as much as you desire God? Why don't you test yourself?
Indulge me on this, because it's basically the same challenge that Jesus gave a rich young man who asked him what he must to do be saved.
A Simple Spiritual Exercise: Select one thing that you desire for yourself, and... let it go, take it off your wish list. Tell God that you need Him more than you need "it."
How does that feel? Did you feel a sense of loss? Are you secretly hoping that God will give it to you anyway since you've now passed some sort of test? Here's the clincher, you have given it up, period. If you have started saving up to buy it, you can now use that money for something else, preferably to help someone in need. You can stop dropping hints to a loved one that you want it.
This is getting more difficult now, isn't it?
Now what? Will you suddenly now become more spiritual and content? No, but as we learn to practice this simple spiritual act in our lives, our souls slowly become less consumed with self-indulgence and more concerned about the things of God, about His mission.
Every thing we say no to opens up space in our hearts to say yes to God's will.
Say a simple prayer and thank God for His grace, and pray that He will use you to focus on the needs of others, and on the eternal Creator of all things.
Pray: God, you care more about me than I could ever imagine. You know the desires of my heart, both the good and the selfish ones. I pray that you would make me one with yourself, help my will be yours. Replace my idolatry of material things with true devotion. I give you what I have, knowing you will provide. Amen